Ask the Mechanic: How do I maintain my car’s heating system?

By: Chris Bradford
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Maintaining your vehicle’s heating system, for the most part, is a very low maintenance task. Believe it or not, the engine cooling system is the system that requires the maintenance to ensure that the heater functions properly. When you start your car in the morning you notice that the air coming out of the heater or defrosting ducts is cold, and after a few minutes it gets warm and then hot. The reason for this is that the heating system is part of the engine cooling system. When a cold engine is first started, the coolant that is in the engine block is circulated to the heating system through hoses to a component inside the car called a heater core. This heater core can be best described as a miniature heat-exchanger. The coolant enters the core on one side, travels through a continuous metal line and then exits back into the engine cooling system. An electric fan blows air through the core. This air is heated and travels through the ducts and out into the cabin. The warmer the coolant, the warmer the air that is entering the cabin. You can see the importance of maintaining your cooling system. Replacing coolant as a scheduled maintenance item, along with inspections of the entire cooling system, should be done on a regular basis. If the coolant level gets low, usually caused by a leak, the heating system will not function at peak capacity — coolant may not reach the heater core. If this happens the core never gets warm and the fan is blowing air over a cool heater core and cool air comes out the vents. This is often mistaken as a heater malfunction when actually there is a problem with the cooling system. Another maintenance item that is commonly an issue in later models is the cabin air filter. This filter is normally located inside the vehicle and is designed to filter the fresh air that enters the interior. The filter should be inspected and replaced regularly. In conclusion, the best way to maintain you vehicle’s heating system is to properly care for it’s cooling system. Check coolant levels, perform regular inspections and stay warm. Chris Bradford is the shop foreman for Magnussen’s Auburn Toyota at 800 Nevada St., Auburn. He can be reached at (530) 885-8484. ---------- Have a question? Have questions about common maintenance for our local mechanics? Send us your queries by e-mail to: Mail them to: Gold Country Motoring C/O Andrew DiLuccia 1030 High Street Auburn CA, 95604 Call us at: (530) 852-0245 Or fax to: (530) 887-1231